The Arab Spring Revisited: From Mass Protests to Local Revolts

Syn­op­sis
The push for change in the Mid­dle East and North Africa, dom­i­nat­ed by the bloody civ­il war in Syr­ia, has mor­phed from mass anti-gov­ern­ment protests in the cap­i­tals into a wave of small­er, polit­i­cal and socio-eco­nom­ic protests often in the out­ly­ing towns, that could lead to a sec­ond round of anti-regime demon­stra­tions in coun­tries that have so far man­aged to con­trol wide­spread dis­con­tent.

Com­men­tary

Tele­vised pic­tures of mass demon­stra­tions in Cairo’s Tahrir Square as well as in Tunis, Tripoli and Sana’a have been replaced by scenes of bit­ter mil­i­tary bat­tles in Syria’s main cities and towns. How­ev­er, the impres­sion that the wave of peace­ful protests that top­pled the lead­ers of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen has lost momen­tum is decep­tive.

A wave of small­er, more local protests in out­ly­ing towns sug­gest a rad­i­cal shift in the Mid­dle East and North Africa: a once rel­a­tive­ly docile, cowed pop­u­la­tion is apply­ing a new assertive­ness, a sense of empow­er­ment acquired from the ini­tial suc­cess of the Arab revolts to push demands for reform. They focus their objec­tive on hold­ing their gov­ern­ments account­able for cre­at­ing the polit­i­cal con­di­tions that will bring jobs and achieve eco­nom­ic growth and demon­strate that pop­u­lar dis­con­tent con­tin­ues to boil across the region in both pre-and post-revolt coun­tries.

Revolts in wait­ing

Bahrain remains a sec­ond pop­u­lar revolt-in-wait­ing. Last year’s Sau­di-backed bru­tal crack­down drove pro­test­ers from Pearl Square in the cap­i­tal Man­a­ma into the vil­lages where small­er groups of demon­stra­tors clash with secu­ri­ty forces almost dai­ly. Secu­ri­ty forces used tear­gas and bird­shot ear­li­er this month to dis­perse pro­tes­tors in three dif­fer­ent loca­tions out­side the cap­i­tal. Some 45 peo­ple were injured and 40 arrest­ed. The protests are fuelled by the government’s fail­ure to enact reforms that would put an end to the dis­crim­i­na­tion of the major­i­ty Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion and engage seri­ous­ly in talks with the oppo­si­tion. ‘

Con­fronta­tion in the oil-rich East­ern Province of Sau­di Ara­bia has inten­si­fied as the gov­ern­ment cracks down on pro­test­ers demand­ing an end to dis­crim­i­na­tion of the pre­dom­i­nant­ly Shi­ite pop­u­la­tion by a Wah­habi regime whose puri­tan inter­pre­ta­tion of Islam views them as heretics. Ear­li­er this month, masked gun­men shot and wound­ed a bor­der guard while a police­man and an armed pro­test­er were killed when a secu­ri­ty patrol came under heavy gun­fire. Activists are prepar­ing for anoth­er mass protest in the region a month after a promi­nent oppo­si­tion cler­ic was shot while being arrest­ed.

While protests in the Gulf are fuelled by sec­tar­i­an resent­ment and demands for the rights of the state­less, demon­stra­tions in much of the rest of the region focus on labour, eco­nom­ic and social issues as well as cor­rup­tion. They range from post-revolt Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen to Jor­dan, Alge­ria and Moroc­co that have so far fend­ed off pop­u­lar revolts. The wave of protests often pre­dates the mass demon­stra­tions of the past 18 months, but has gath­ered pace as a result of the pop­u­lar upris­ings as well as the glob­al eco­nom­ic cri­sis.

Activists and trade union­ists in Moroc­co, where the king ini­tial­ly took the wind out of the sails of the protest move­ment by ini­ti­at­ing con­sti­tu­tion­al change and hold­ing elec­tions that pro­duced an Islamist-led gov­ern­ment, demon­strat­ed this month in the cap­i­tal Rabat and oth­er cities against ris­ing fuel prices, con­tin­ued cor­rup­tion by the rul­ing elite and the government’s per­ceived fail­ure to address social griev­ances. Ear­li­er, sim­i­lar protests in out­ly­ing towns like Taza in the north­east of the coun­try, were bru­tal­ly repressed by secu­ri­ty forces. Achiev­ing eco­nom­ic growth is like­ly to prove dif­fi­cult giv­en that Morocco’s agri­cul­ture-based econ­o­my imports its wheat and ener­gy and mar­kets them at sub­si­dized prices while fac­ing reduced exports to and remit­tances from Europe as well as an expect­ed drought. As a result, address­ing this year’s eco­nom­ic demands could prove more dif­fi­cult than meet­ing polit­i­cal demands last year.

Caught by sur­prise

Sim­i­lar­ly, a tac­it under­stand­ing between Alger­ian soc­cer fans and secu­ri­ty forces that allowed the fans to raise their griev­ances as long as they were con­tained in the sta­di­ums is becom­ing increas­ing­ly frag­ile, arous­ing fears that the protests could at any time spill back into the streets of Algiers and oth­er cities. Dis­con­tent over lack of water, hous­ing, elec­tric­i­ty and salaries per­vades the coun­try, spark­ing almost dai­ly protests inside and out­side the sta­di­ums and clash­es with secu­ri­ty forces. A quar­ter of the Alger­ian pop­u­la­tion lives under the pover­ty line and unem­ploy­ment is ram­pant. Protests ear­li­er this year in Laghouat and oth­er oil and gas cities, sym­bol­ic of sim­mer­ing dis­con­tent, have gone viral in social media.

A gen­er­al strike has par­a­lyzed the home­town of Tunisian fruit sell­er Mohamed Bouaz­izi whose self-immo­la­tion in Decem­ber 2010 sparked the wave of Arab protests, to back demands that the gov­ern­ment resign for fail­ing to alle­vi­ate pover­ty, which they claim has wors­ened since the ouster last year of Pres­i­dent Zine El Abe­dine Ben Ali. In Jor­dan, protests by trib­al groups, long viewed as the bedrock of the roy­al fam­i­ly, sweep the coun­try­side on a week­ly basis, tar­get­ing King Abdul­lah and demand­ing polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic reform and an end to cor­rup­tion. In Egypt, despite a law to sup­press labour strikes decreed last year by the mil­i­tary coun­cil, the num­ber of protests and strikes has increased since the top­pling of Pres­i­dent Hos­ni Mubarak. Work­ers across Yemen have stormed gov­ern­ment and com­mer­cial offices to demand reform and the dis­missal of alleged­ly cor­rupt man­agers.

The world was caught by sur­prise when Bouaz­izi changed the course of his­to­ry. Gov­ern­ments, intel­li­gence agen­cies and the media failed to see the tell-tale signs of mass protest in the mak­ing. The writ­ing on the wall is still there. A Uni­ver­si­ty of Ams­ter­dam report just pub­lished warns: “Although the Arab Spring is still in its ear­ly stages and opti­mism is preva­lent (at least among some pun­dits), there are nev­er­the­less cer­tain devel­op­ments ongo­ing that could be described as alarm­ing. Pro­longed polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty and the lack of eco­nom­ic progress could have adverse con­se­quences for both the Arab world and the West, not only in terms of eco­nom­ic inter­ests but also in terms of secu­ri­ty.”

While the civ­il war in Syr­ia dom­i­nates the news the wave of protests and strikes in the small­er cities of Arab states along the Mediter­ranean to the Gulf fore­tells a groundswell of mass demon­stra­tions and revolts that seri­ous­ly threat­en the secu­ri­ty of the regimes across the Mid­dle East and North Africa.

About The Author:
James M. Dorsey is a senior fel­low at the S. Rajarat­nam School of Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies at Nanyang Tech­no­log­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty in Sin­ga­pore and the author of the blog, The Tur­bu­lent World of Mid­dle East Soc­cer.

Team GlobDef

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefenc.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →